Room-temperature ionic liquids (RTILs) are a moderately new class of liquid substances that are characterized by a great variety of possible anion-cation combinations giving each of them different properties. For this reason, they have been termed as designer solvents and, as such, they are particularly promising for liquid-liquid extraction, which has been quite intensely studied over the last decade. This paper concentrates on the recent liquid-liquid extraction studies involving ionic liquids, yet focusing strictly on the separation of n-butanol from model aqueous solutions. Such research is undertaken mainly with the intention of facilitating biological butanol production, which is usually carried out through the ABE fermentation process. So far, various sorts of RTILs have been tested for this purpose while mostly ternary liquid-liquid systems have been investigated. The industrial design of liquid-liquid extraction requires prior knowledge of the state of thermodynamic equilibrium and its relation to the process parameters. Such knowledge can be obtained by performing a series of extraction experiments and employing a certain mathematical model to approximate the equilibrium. There are at least a few models available but this paper concentrates primarily on the NRTL equation, which has proven to be one of the most accurate tools for correlating experimental equilibrium data. Thus, all the presented studies have been selected based on the accepted modeling method. The reader is also shown how the NRTL equation can be used to model liquid-liquid systems containing more than three components as it has been the authors’ recent area of expertise.
A new concept of an electrostatic spray column for liquid-liquid extraction was investigated. An important problem for separation processes is the presence of azeotropic or close-boiling mixtures in their production, for example heptane with ethanol, since the separation is impossible by ordinary distillation. The use of ionic liquids (IL) as a dispersed solvent specially engineered for any specific organic mixture in terms of selectivity is a key factor to successful separation. As IL present particularly attractive combination of favorable characteristics for the separation of heptane and ethanol, in this work we use 1-butyl-3-methylimidazolium methyl sulfate [BMIM][MeSO4]. Because of high viscosity and relatively high cost of IL a new technique was introduced, consisting in the electrostatically spray generation to enhance the mass transport between the phases. In order to optimally design the geometry of the contactor a series of numerical simulation was performed. Especially multi-nozzle variants for better exploitation of contactor volume were investigated. Experiments showed excellent possibility of control of the dispersion characteristics by applied voltage and thus control of the rate of extraction. The preliminary simulations based on our mathematical model for a three nozzle variant exhibited visual agreement with the theory of electrostatics.
Liquid-liquid extraction provides an environmentally friendly process as an alternative to azeotropic distillation, pervaporation and reverse osmosis because these techniques require the use of large amounts of energy, may involve volatile organic compounds, and operation at high pressure. Ionic liquids (ILs) continue to gain wide recognition as potential environmentally friendly solvents due to their unique properties. However due to their current high cost, their use in industry is seriously limited without an efficient methodology for recovery and recycle. In this paper we describe an innovative methodology for a liquid-liquid extraction process based on an electrically induced emulsion of an ionic liquid as the extracting solvent dispersed in an organic mixture. This offers a most efficient exploitation of the solvent. On the other hand we present our own design of a pilot (semi-industrial) scale extractor based on this methodology and which demonstrates effective recovery of the ionic liquid. In order to achieve this goal we used a numerical modelling tool implemented using our own simulation software based on the finite element method. We also used our original previous experience with generating and investigating liquid-liquid electrosprays using phase Doppler anemometry. Finally we present recommendations for contactor geometry and for the preferred operating conditions for the extractor.